Government Employee FAQ

Can U.S. federal government employees be members of Open Source for America?

Absolutely. There is no prohibition to joining an organization such as Open Source for America, and we enthusiastically welcome their participation. However, two caveats should be kept in mind. First, you may wish to check your agency’s ethics and/or conflicts of interest policies. Second, we may on occasion alert members of potential lobbying opportunities, and there are strict rules against federal employee participation in lobbying activities.

How should I check on these ethics and conflict of interest policies?

You would contact your agency’s ethics office. At minimum, you may wish to determine if it is acceptable to join on your “official” time (using your work email address to receive announcements), or if it is recommended to do so on your personal time. Further, the Office of Legal Counsel and Legal Policy in the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (“OGE”) establishes and maintains the uniform framework of government-wide ethics law for executive branch employees. OGE is available to provide guidance and answer questions to Federal employees and the private sector. OGE’s website has a wealth of information. For instance, if a Federal employee does not know who to contact for advice within an agency, the site has a separate page on “ethics officers by agency”.

What are the restrictions on lobbying activity, and how do I ensure compliance while participating in Open Source for America?

Federal government employees may not use government resources to engage in lobbying activities, and may not themselves lobby the Congress or government agencies. It is therefore mandatory that you not volunteer to participate in such lobbying activities.

Although Open Source for America does not engage in many lobbying activities, we do anticipate occasionally arranging and alerting our members to lobbying opportunities.  We will be rigorous about labeling them as such, and will be rigorous in assuring that members are alerted that government employees must not participate.

What is a lobbying activity?

Under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a lobbying activity is any activity, including research and planning, that is intended to be used in a communication with specified federal officials to influence the federal official to take a position or an action. This would include influencing policy decisions by Members of Congress, their staff, congressional committees and their staffs, or policy-makers in the Executive Branch.

Can U.S. federal government employees participate in Open Source for America’s workgroups?

Absolutely, and their participation will greatly help these working groups focus and collaborate on open source solutions to technology challenges and opportunities confronting the U.S. government. However, the same caveats apply as above.

I am a state or local government employee. Do these same restrictions apply?

There are no state or local restrictions to joining Open Source for America that we know of, but you may wish to contact your state ethics or standards of conduct office, or equivalent organization, to be sure. Each state has its own statutory and regulatory framework which should be consulted before engaging in any activity that might be considered as unethical by your state’s definition.

This FAQ is intended as general information only, and is not intended to serve as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel.  If you have a question about a specific situation, you should contact your agency ethics office directly.